Sundance London ’19: ‘The Farewell’ Review

‘That’s the difference between the East and the West… In the East, a person’s life is a part of a whole: Family’

These are the words faced by Awkwafina’s character, Billi, when she questions familial and cultural norms and traditions. An account of Lulu Wang’s own life, The Farewell examines the complexities surrounding one’s attempts at balancing two entirely different worlds. Opposites in their expression of love, Wang straddles the famed dichotomy between the ‘east’ and the ‘west’ in such a tender and loving way, with an evident authentic understanding of the immigrant experience.

‘Based on an actual lie,’ the story of The Farewell was first told in the NPR podcast, This American Life, in 2016. The film chronicles an elaborate lie in the name of providing its terminally-ill matriarch with a ‘farewell’ rid of grief, twisting the reality of her prognosis. In her sophomore feature, Wang takes the comedic tale of life and death back to its homeland. Billi, played by rapper-turned-actress Awkwafina, is a first-generation Chinese-American immigrant who first moved to America at age six. Like many immigrant kids, Billi closes the vast geographical distance with her loved ones through frequent phone calls. It is in one of these calls wherein Billi’s touching relationship with her Nai Nai (the Mandarin term for Grandmother) is introduced.

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Sundance London ’19 Review: Melodrama ‘After the Wedding’ struggles to find itself amidst mediocrity

It’s hard not to expect some gruelling white-saviour storyline when a movie starts with scenic shots of a white, Hollywood A-lister playing a volunteer at an underfunded orphanage in Kolkata, India. Thankfully, Bart Freundlich’s reimagining of the 2006 Susanne Bier Danish drama subverts this. But this subversion, and an iconic scene with Julianne Moore head-banging to Lady Gaga’s ‘The Edge of Glory’, is not enough to add any prowess to a blatantly unremarkable melodrama.

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Sundance London ’19 Review: ‘Animals’ is a Hazy, Mid-life ‘Coming-of-Age’

In a cinematic landscape that is currently experiencing a surge of teenage coming-of-age tales, Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) brings another side of the story: the ‘coming-of-age’ as you approach your thirties, a time where the evidence of your twenties is still present despite the looming decade brimmed with higher expectations and the fulfilment of cultural norms. With this offering, Hyde joins the likes of Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour, The Bisexual) in offering authentic and refreshing portrayals of the female millennial experience on screen.

Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat in Animals (2019)

Based on Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel of the same name, Animals chronicles the antics of party-obsessed best friends Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat). The two have been enjoying their fair share of debauchery in Dublin for more than a decade — as established by the well-worn friendship montage in the film’s opening. Despite the growing comments of dismay from their loved ones, Tyler is seemingly content with their midlife wanderings that refuse to conform to the conventions of the nuclear family, proclaiming (after asking Laura to observe the deafening muteness of the suburb) ‘it’s the non-sound of the suburb. They sell it to you as peace, but it’s death’. While Shawkat’s happy-go-lucky character does not necessarily steer too far away from comedic roles she has played in the past, the film’s milieu amps her unstoppable, and unapologetically American, energy.

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Sundance London ’19: ‘Ask Dr.Ruth’ is a Feature-Length Dedication to Everyone’s Favourite Sex Therapist

Known as the grandmother of sexual liberation, the minute figure of Dr. Ruth Westheimer is an anachronism amongst the mainstream American prudishness of the 1980s. She speaks with a forthright, scientific approach to sexual pleasure, bound to the philosophy that if something isn’t working in the bedroom (or in the living room, or on the kitchen table), then the problem should be remedied, rather than ignored. Even today, her distinctive image still rings as a delightful oddity. Imagine: your lovely gentle Granny telling an audience of millions that they need to utilise the clitoris to achieve orgasm. This is the scene that many envision when considering Dr. Ruth’s career – yet, as Ask Dr. Ruth admirably proves, there is so, so much more to this incredible woman than first meets the eye.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer in Ask Dr. Ruth (2019) © Sundance Institute

The documentary begins with Dr. Ruth conversing with Alexa – yes, the Amazon robot – in a charming introduction to a ninety year old who is clearly happy to move with the times. Dr. Ruth laughs as she asks Alexa if she’ll get a boyfriend; “Sorry, I can’t answer that,” the robot abruptly replies, to the complete amusement of both subject and audience. This is a perfect setup for a film which will continue to explore Dr. Ruth’s extraordinarily lovable personality, alongside a deep respect for her academic achievements. 

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Sundance London ’19 Review: ‘Corporate Animals’

Workplace backstabbing gets scarily literal in Patrick Brice’s comedy-horror Corporate Animals, an entertaining, if shallow, mediation on the world of corporate bullshit.

In a last minute attempt to rescue her rapidly crumbling edible cutlery business (Incredible Edibles, all insinuations clearly intended), super-controlling CEO Lucy (Demi Moore) drags her colleagues off on a team-building spelunking exercise. Among the ragtag group of reluctant teammates are Lucy’s “mentee” Jess (Jessica Williams), and the secret genius behind the project, Freddie (Karan Soni), a pair of rivals-turned-friends who quickly realise that their boss has not been entirely truthful with them. 

Demi Moore and Ed Helms in Corporate Animals (2019) © Sundance Institute

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